OIL PAINTING: Constantine's Dream, 1455
Constantine the Great (c. 280-337), was a Roman Emperor, the son of Helena. He came to overall power in 312 after defeating the Emperor Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian bridge on the Tiber, an event traditionally regarded as the turning point in the establishment of Christianity within the empire. Francesca depicts this scene :According to Eusebius' Life of Constantine (1:27-32), on the eve of the battle Constantine saw in a dream a cross in the sky, and heard a voice saying, 'In hoc signo vinces' - 'By this sign shalt thou conquer.' Henceforth, it is said, he substituted the emblem for the Roman eagle on the standard, or laborum, of the legions.
This scene Francesca set in the middle of the night. Inside his large tent, the Emperor lies asleep. Seated on a bench bathed in light, a servant watches over him and gazes dreamily out towards the onlooker, as though in silent conversation. With a daring innovation, that almost seems to anticipate Caravaggio's modern concept of light
, the two sentries in the foreground stand out from the darkness, lit only from the sides by the light projected from the angel above.